Patrick McDonnell was my best friend in the second, third, and fourth grades at Holy Cross School. He was the smartest kid I ever knew. He had moved to Back of the Yards in Chicago from Ireland with his father, his brothers James, Leon, and Michael, and his sisters Cora and Margaret. His mother had died in Ireland before they came to Chicago. They lived next door to the firehouse on the corner of 45th Street and Marshfield.
I loved going to his house after school because we had fun visiting the firemen. Since he was a year behind in school because of his move from Ireland, he was older and wiser than me. Whenever I needed the mysteries of the universe explained to me, Patrick was there to explain them to me so that even I understood them.
Once, we were standing in the crosswalk on the corner of 46th Street and Paulina. I was about to cross the street when he stretched his arm across my chest to prevent me from crossing. Much to my surprise, a car drove right in front of our path. I was so amazed that he knew the car was coming our way. “How did you know the car was turning?” I asked him. “I saw his turn signal,” he said. “What’s a turn signal?” I asked. And he explained the Rules of the Road to me, edifying me about another one of the mysteries of the world, as only Patrick could. He performed a visual reenactment of our incident with him as the car and his eyes as the turn signals. He said he knew the car was turning left because he saw a left turn signal. He then winked his left eye repeatedly to represent the car’s left turn signal. For some reason, I always remember Patrick’s freckled face reenacting the left turn signal.
When his family finally moved to the suburbs—I don’t remember which one—he came to my house to say good-bye. In retrospect, I should have gotten his new address and phone number. On the other hand, he didn’t ask me for mine, either.